Monday, October 11, 2004


Saturday night I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Norah Jones. The opportunity came up when a friend called and said that someone she worked with had offered her tickets because he was going to the Dodger game instead. He said "they're really good seats." He lied. As far as sound goes there is no bad seat at the Hollywood Bowl, and at the newly remodeled bowl there are 18,000 seats so that's saying something.

But the level of audience participation, or involvement lessens dramatically the farther up you sit. It lessens to the point that it seems that people sitting in the back half of the bowl are simply there to sit under the stars and watch the musical entertainment on the big screens, but are so disconnected from the actual live performance that they don't clap at the end of songs. They don't sway back and forth to the sound of music. They don't hum or sing along. They pretty much just sit there. Quietly.

And they shush you if you have a hard time sitting quietly when watching live music.

I have never been to the Hollywood Bowl and not been shushed. It's why I don't like the Hollywood Bowl. Well, that and the parking. But, and I know this is a glaring generalization, for the most part that people that frequent the bowl seem to, by and large, have sphincters so tight it's like they're sitting there squeezing out diamonds as the music plays. Once someone asked me if I couldn't "puhleese chew my popcorn more quietly." As a codocil I have to say that this has only happened to me when I'm sitting in the nose bleeds. Probably because the closer you sit to the stage the louder the volume and the less likely the people around you are to hear you whisper. Up in the heights of the bowl you could hear a hummingbird fart.

My friend Alex and I got shushed on Saturday night and admittedly we were having a very hard time being quiet. This is most likely because we got stuck in horrible traffic and couldn't find a place to park for about an hour and a half. So while we rode around in the car, and sat in traffic, we drank a bottle of champagne and ate the picnic that we brought to eat under the stars. And if it weren't for that food and the 2 mile hike up Highland and then up the hill and then up to our seats, we probably would've been much more lit up than we were. As it was we were just kind of winded and silly. And chatty.

Because it took so long to find a place to park and then to walk to the bowl and then our seats the Norah was already playing though I think we only missed one song from what I can tell from reviews of the show. Ms. Jones sold out the bowl which is quite a coup, but I would not recommend seeing her in a huge venue. Her performance and her voice are so intimate and nuanced and if you're sitting more than 50 feet away you're going to miss the textures. At one point she said, "how're you all doing up there in the back? I can't even tell you're there, but I can see that you are a lot of people - a buttload of people!"

And it was right after she made that comment that I became aware of the fact that after she'd finish a song no one in the whole upper sections was clapping. Except me. I mean I started looking around and everyone was just sitting there. And I commented on this fact sotto voce, "Hey! No one up here claps!" And the balding man in front of me, in his members only leather jacket shot back over his shoulder, "Yeah, and they don't talk either."

Alex and I looked at each other and she said, "did we just get shushed." Um, yep. We sure did. So we stopped talking and sat quietly staring dumbly at the jumbotron like the rest of the masses. But after every song that followed the shushing, I decided it was up to me to clap and woo-hoo for the whole sections. I was the lone voice of approval and exuberance ringing from the nosebleeds.

And she was done with her show by 9:30pm.

And I'm really hoping it wasn't because the audience was a boring lay, because she was really good and I loved her show. I have a theory that for a lot of performers the buzz comes less from the adulation than from the interaction and appreciation one receives from the audience. I mean think about it - how would you like to be performing to dead silence and polite and sporadic clapping. When I go see someone sing I like to move to the music and sing along. I'm not one of those who drunkenly bawls, "I love you!", but I appreciate where they're coming from. The bowl with it's excellence acoustics is not a place for people who like to go to shows like I do. So I won't be going back there. And I'm sure everyone in my section would be happy to hear it.

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